The Department of Energy says the solar industry achieved the 2020 utility-scale solar cost target set by the SunShot Initiative.
When the DOE launched the SunShot Initiative in 2011 under the Obama Administration, it set goals to make grid-connected solar electricity market-competitive with other forms of energy, without subsidies, by 2020. Three years earlier than expected, the average price of utility-scale solar is 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).
Residential- and commercial-scale solar costs have also come down steadily, lowering to 16 and 11 cents per kWh respectively, and work continues to reach the 2020 cost targets of 10 and 8 cents, DOE says. According to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory report, low module prices have been the largest driver of cost reductions. The more stubborn “soft” costs — like labor, permitting, interconnection, customer acquisition, financing and grid integration — remain challenges.
DOE says that while it will continue research to drive down costs, new funding programs will focus on Trump Administration priorities, which includes early-stage research to address solar energy’s challenges of grid reliability, resilience and storage.
DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office announced up to $82 million in early-stage research in two areas:
- Concentrating Solar Power (CSP): Up to $62 million will support advances in CSP technologies to enable on-demand solar energy. CSP technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a focused point where it is collected and converted into heat. This thermal energy can be stored and used to produce electricity when the sun is not shining or integrated into other applications, such as producing fresh water or supplying process heat.
- Power Electronics: Up to $20 million is dedicated to early-stage projects to advance power electronics technologies. Such innovations are fundamental to solar PV as the critical link between PV arrays and the electric grid. Advances in power electronics will help grid operators rapidly detect problems and respond, protect against physical and cyber vulnerabilities and enable consumers to manage electricity use.
Awardees will be required to contribute 20 percent of the funds to their overall project budget, yielding total public and private spending of nearly $100 million. DOE says the funds are not grants, but involve "substantial federal oversight" and consist of go/no-go technical milestones that ensure attentive stewardship of projects.
Solar energy currently supplies about 1.5 percent of U.S. electricity. In the last 10 years, the amount of solar power installed in the U.S. has increased from 1.1 gigawatts (GW) in 2007 to an estimated 47.1 GW in 2017.